19 Jun

A sermon by the Rev. Dawn Cooley
Delivered at First Unitarian Church, Louisville, KY on June 3, 2012

Listen to the sermon here.

Thinking about sermon, could take intellectual approach:

5 types of prayers:

  1. Praise
  2. Penitence, expiation or contrition: seeking forgiveness
  3. Petition: asking for something material
  4. Thanksgiving
  5. Intercession: asking for something for someone else

Could take each of these and talk about them, explain them, and tell you how a UU might interpret them.

Eric Walker Wikstrom has done a great job of this in Simply Pray.

Will do that sometime. Not today.

Prayer is a very personal thing, and there is no one right answer for what it means when we pray.

Instead of taking the intellectual approach, take a personal approach. Then connect it to what we do here every week.

My story:
Learning to pray as a child

  • Now I lay me down to sleep
  • Lord’s Prayer

As a teenager: Evangelical

  • Stand in circle, hold hands, make something up
  • ANXIETY – what to say???
  • Got good at it
  • Now, often will find me abstaining – prayer, sharing – as a way to make room for others to opt out as well.

No prayer

  • disconnected, isolated, cut off from the ground of my being
  • went searching…


  • rituals, raising energy and casting it out
  • Movement – spiral dance
  • Chanting, drumming
  • Physical

Gratitude journal

  • don’t need to send it out TOO someone
  • act of being grateful changes ME

CPE in hospital

  • had to reclaim ability to pray out loud, using words I could say with conviction an that would bring comfort.
  • If any of you want me to pray with or for you, let me know. My job as your minister – few take me up on it, don’t hesitate to ask!
  • Still an important part of my prayer life


Tried meditation

  • good for relaxing me
  • fall asleep
  • wish I could be someone who meditates regularly

Conversations with ???

  • doesn’t matter who, what, why.
  • It matters that it feels good and right to me.
  • Often just one word or thought: Help. Thank you.

My prayer story – probably connects with many of your prayer stories.

No one right way to pray.

This is why, each week, in our moment of silence, I give examples of ways we might connect with the spirit of life and love – ways we might pray.

Though we don’t have the physical space for the more active forms of prayer or meditation, there are 4 ways I invite us to pray each week….

I say: We each have our own ways of connecting with the spirit of life and love: We may meditate on our breath as we breathe in and out,

Human beings, not human “doings”

e.e. Cummings “may I be I is the only prayer – not may I be great or good or beautiful or wise or strong.”

Member once told me this was his favorite part of the whole week, when he had a chance to sit, and breathe.

Sing: When I breathe in, I’ll breathe in peace. When I breathe out, I’ll breathe out love.

We each have our own ways of connecting with the spirit of life and love: We may recite well worn words and phrases from times past.

Jozi – music, connects her to others who have played, prayed

Now I lay me down to sleep
our father
the lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want…
Shabbat prayer

We each have our own ways of connecting with the spirit of life and love: We may listen to the still small voice inside.

Joy Harjo: To pray you open your whole self to sky, to earth, to sun, to moon to one whole voice that is you.

A longtime member of our congregation writes “I wait for the strength and know how to do the right thing. Some people might call that prayer, but I expect the know-how to come from “my better self.”

Another says that thinking about things right before falling to sleep often brings a solution or answer sometime during the night.

Sing: Voice still and small, deep inside all, I hear you call, singing.

We each have our own ways of connecting with the spirit of life and love: We may talk to the divine as though it were an intimate friend.

Could be a conversation with God, like my own. Or not!

An agnostic leaning toward atheism in our congregation writes, “I do believe in the power of love and therefore I do pray that goodness and mercy stay with someone important to me who is dealing with significant difficulties and give them strength, help them to know the love that surrounds them, and keep them from suffering. I like to think that the thought counts and may somehow transmitted to the person. In any case, it helps me to think of them.”

Another member of our congregation says “Since I do not believe in the existence of any divine form of being, my form of prayer is directed inward. It is, for me, an acknowledgment of the inner dynamic of mind that we call the unconscious thanks to the insight of Sigmund Freud. As I see it, when the believer says “Lord, hear my prayer,” the unconscious hears it.” Though this person personally does not “request the intervention of an outside agitator.”

Sing: Spirit of Life, come unto me, sing in my heart

Finally, perhaps I should add a 5th way to the list: we pluck on the string of the interconnected web and send energy out to those who need it.

Jozi – interconnected web
Earth-centered rituals

holding someone in the light

Sing: Great spirit come and rest in me.

We each have our own ways to pray, and our own reasons to pray. It matters not how we do it, or even why.

What matters is that we each find some way to connect with that power that is beyond our current understanding, that is known by many names, that moves in each of us, and reminds us of the mystery and wonder of life and love. Find a way – whatever way feels right to you. May it be so. Amen.

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